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Send them to the field!

Send them to the field!

This post originally appeared on Alison’s blog, Land of the Blind, and is reprinted here with permission. 

Development workers are living developed lives. Getting out into the romantically portrayed “field” is a rarity, a special opportunity, something to be bragged about over the internet. Although development workers are mostly working on rural development issues (in most developing countries a majority of the population is rural and depends on agriculture for livelihoods), they are living in the cities, far from those they are supposed to “develop.” The separation between cities and the countryside is not only geographical, but also cultural. How then can development workers in the cities know how to resolve issues affecting their “beneficiaries” in a faraway land?

To be most effective, development workers need to go to the field and stay there.

Working in the field would give development workers an opportunity to have a new lifestyle, localize their experiences and knowledge, cut costs, and ultimately give them the ability to do their jobs and deliver aid more effectively and efficiently.

There is very little information on this, but I think all of we development workers can agree that most of us live in city centres packed with expats of all shapes and sizes. It is unclear how this happened.

From higher-up academic-y levels that often influence how we do our jobs, some have argued that NGOs need to be close to country power centers in the city. Ironically, decentralization is now widely promoted as a vital component to “good governance” and “democracy-building.” And in developing countries where rule of law is often lacking, the top-down, state-centered approach tends not to work anyway. This point alone has made up many a doctoral thesis.

NGOs continue to perpetuate concentration of power in city centres due to their inability to communicate with local governments. International aid workers’ largely urban presence legitimizes undue power-wielding by national authorities and perpetuates the unequal development progress they are supposedly mitigating.

Theoretical issues aside (this is just a blog entry, after all), development workers’ distance from the field is problematic from the most practical point of view. The field is where the people are and where the culture is. We’ve all bragged about our Western “efforts” to “get down with the people” and “be more local,” which, in the cities, is much more difficult to do.

Development workers believe they are making an effort by taking a language course once a week with friends during their two-hour lunch breaks. They claim they love the local cuisine because they have a cheap set meal with English-speaking co-workers a few times a week in an open-air restaurant. They are so close to the local people because they had a five-minute conversation with their English-speaking landlady last night. Of course, this is all a cynical exaggeration, but there is some truth to it.

A field. See, it's not so bad!
A field. See, it’s not so bad!

Locals know what’s up 

Our best resources are the people affected by the projects we are trying to implement, and most likely these people are not in the city. International development workers’ main cultural and human resources are their local co-workers in their white-walled, air-conditioned offices. When working on issues affecting disadvantaged populations, however, local development workers are not omniscient. They too have a geographical and class distance from the populations that NGO projects tend to target.

From my experiences in Asia, getting at the root of the problem takes time and intimacy with the local people and culture in “the field” – a field visit or two is not enough. A person can ask as many questions as they possibly can think up over a three-day period and not get a straight answer that touches on the real issue. Situations are most effectively and thoroughly assessed through everyday relationships, through which free-flow, long-term conversations can take place.

The result of this would be actual outcomes, realistic approaches, improved partnerships and lines of communication, and generally more effective projects. (Not to mention the theoretical decentralization advantages of giving local governance a voice, see above.) The field gives easy access to our most knowledgeable informant: the beneficiary.

Culture is good for you

Sure, living in the field is difficult. I’m an extrovert, and the quiet of the countryside has sometimes felt isolating. I’ve been frustrated by cultural working differences. The internet speed leaves something to be desired. I crave a good burger every once in a while. Yeah, life is so hard.

Some might argue that because life in the field lacks pristine living conditions and Western-ish salaries, it might not appeal to the best and brightest. The assumption here, however, is that development workers have the same motivations as those that go into other lines of work, i.e., money.

On the contrary, many fellow aid workers I know came into this line of work wanting to accomplish the cliché but genuine goal of “helping people.” I’ve heard many development workers say how they were surprised, and even felt guilty, at the Western form their foreign lives have taken. They generally eat the same food, hang with similar people, and spend their days typing over their computers without breaking a sweat, much like they did in their home countries.

Many aid workers I know are not satisfied with this lifestyle– they recognize their distance from the “beneficiary,” shamelessly and blatantly noting the ineffectiveness of their own work. Many took on aid jobs expecting them to be more local or exotic, but city life sucks them into an international lifestyle, increasing their distance from the people they came to help. Although it is “difficult” to live and work in the field, at the same time, many aid workers in the city crave the experience.

Development jobs should fulfill their expectations and send them to the field.

The added bonus is that administrative costs would be greatly reduced. Office spaces in the field are exponentially cheaper than in the city. Overhead would further plummet when you cut out field visits and per diem expenses, which spoil us (get real people, we’ve all pocketed per diem money). Due to decreased living expenses, international salaries could also be reduced. Donors, are you drooling yet?

Western people flock to Western things, and some might argue that all of this will only bring Western food, lodging, and entertainment (in its worst forms) into the field. Studies have shown that people prefer to associate with people and places that reaffirm who they already are. This argument assumes that development workers may always prefer distance from local customs and populations, preferring instead to associate with each other over three dollar cappuccinos.

This may be true for some people that work in development, but much like we came into this field to help people, we also did it because we love living in a totally different place, we are fascinated by cultural differences, we enjoy ethnic foods, and, again, we have a heart for the disadvantaged. If this fact isn’t enough, development jobs could be re-drawn to attract people who are dedicated and passionate about foreign culture, language, and people, not just wanting an opportunity to be cool living in a city where they can have a fancy Western lifestyle. Job advertisements should promote cultural intimacy from the beginning.

Living in the field is sometimes difficult , but it is not agonizing. It is always possible to fill some of my Western desires (a lady I know at the market always sells peanut butter). At the same time, being deprived of the opportunity to eat a burger over English conversation every night has made my experience much more enriching. It didn’t hurt, either; the countryside life easily drew me in once I let it.

As for the rest of us still in the cities, we must make a concerted effort to resist our every Western whim and try to our best to get in touch with the local culture –that is, until the donors buck up and put us where we belong. Send them to the field!

Update 27 July

Reactions and comments from Twitter in response

Featured image shows the outskirts of Chipata, Zambia. Photo by Jennifer Ambrose.

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Alison is a U.S. attorney with a diverse background working in human rights issues in Southeast Asia, West Africa and Central America. Her repertoire includes land tenure, legal empowerment and aid, indigent defense and anti-corruption. She is currently in Miami adjudicating refugee and asylum claims and spending lots of time on the beach.

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16 thoughts on “Send them to the field!

  1. Thanks for your piece. A few comments as I feel very strongly about this subject.

    1. For sure and without a doubt, development and humanitarian workers MUST spend more time in the field. It is the only way to know what is happening, ensure that project delivery is as it shoud be, get information from beneficiaries and communities as to what is working, what is not, what can be improved etc.. This applies to both “expats” and national staff.

    2. 30 years ago when I started working for the UN in a sub-office, I, and my collegues,were in the field every day or almost. Nowadays, because of security concerns, because of computers, because of donors’ reporting requirements demanding more time in the office, because of institutionally self-imposed constraints, rules and regulations, staff do not go out as much as they once did. This is neither acceptable from an operational nor policy perspective.

    3. In light of various parameters which have changed over the last three decades, it may not be possible for staff to live ” in the field” , i.e. in a remote hamlet. But there are many sub-offices, secondary and tertiary towns which house development and humanitarian workers. Agencies would be well encouraged to reposition their staff away from the capital (yes there are always a thousand good and bad reasons to keep and expand the staffing level in capital) to sub-offices, closer to where the projects are being implemented.

    4. In the end, yes contact with communities is worthwhile from a cultural and personal perspective, but the most important reason is to ensure delivery of the services and goods that are planned. M&E is not about spreadsheets on a laptop (which it is in the end), but it is about experiencing what is happening on the ground.and being able to report on what is happening in a knowledgeable way.
    Charles

  2. I think that a lot of the flak that the author has been receiving (or at least the only flak that she should be paying attention to) is coming from those who have spent time in the field, in the capital, and at world HQ, in a variety of independent and major IO roles, who can see the value and place of each, and who have grown weary of absolutes and silver bullets (eg. the post on the AidSpeak page). Maybe a more relevant statement than “send them to the field” is “send them to the most appropriate location possible in order to ensure an effective project, which may or may not be the field”. The value of placing foreigners “in the field” (by which I mean working within the community targeted by the project) will depend entirely on the job that needs to be done, the capacity of local field staff and/or local partner NGOs, the local culture, etc.

    For example:

    1. The job: If you are designing a project, implementing a project, or monitoring a project, you need to be in the field, at least part of the time, ideally all of the time. Period. Otherwise you risk designing a project that is inappropriate, giving fly-by-night training or funding with inadequate follow-up, relying on beneficiary-reported outcomes, or incomplete M&E. If you’re doing anything else, your value may be greater elsewhere.
    2. Local field staff: If you are doing one of the jobs above but your organisation has competent and professional local field staff who are giving significant and highly-valued input and feedback on the above, or if you have competent and professional field staff doing the jobs above, they will do a far better job than any foreigner will. Almost all of the time. (Some cultures might place higher value and stock in a foreigner’s advice and presence.)
    3. Local culture: If you’re doing one of the jobs from #1 and the culture of the country you’re working in is very open and honest in reporting its progress, admitting its faults, identifying areas for improvement, etc, then the need for round-the-clock monitoring may be lessened. “Beneficiaries” may readily admit when a training hasn’t been implemented or effective, or when it’s unclear how to properly allocate a budget, and may ask for targeted assistance. Closed cultures that prefer to save face and claim that a budget has been spent effectively and training has been implemented successfully when the opposite is true may require more participation and deeper engagement.

    I think that perhaps the most universally applicable value to be found in working in the field, across job descriptions, local staff capacities, and local cultures, is being able to see first-hand the harm that is done through bad development projects and the various ways in which that can occur. The most obvious to anyone who has spent time in the field occurs when the big Lexus or Land Rover rolls in with the (insert major INGO or multilateral donor agency here) logo on the door, holds meetings, delivers training, hands out some cash, receives heaps of positive and encouraging reports from their beneficiaries, and then pulls out hours or days later, only to leave behind the same situation they came into, albeit with more money lining the pockets of the powerful and a more disenfranchised citizenry. Those are the instances in which we want to scream “Send them to the field!” But let’s not forget that an awful lot of foreigners in the field do it wrong, and an awful lot of locals in the field do it right, along with the other permutations. The message should possibly be “do it intelligently” more so than “do it in the field”.

    1. All wonderful points, Anna! Although “send them to the field” is more catchy sounding, people just need to be where they will be most effective. In fact, the term “the field” should probably be abolished entirely…

  3. Thank you all for the wonderful discussion and responses. I love talking about things like this – this is how we make aid better! I apologize for the late response…
    After a year of working in “the field” in Cambodia, I’m now working in an urban center in Sierra Leone. Ironically I just returned from a three-day field visit, where I had to figure out a village’s complex land issues…in three days. I am my own worst enemy! Joking. Anyway…

    I hope I can respond to most of your comments. To clarify definitions for the sake of this discussion, I tried to use the term “the field” in the context of my post to define places that are geographically close to the beneficiary – who are usually in rural areas. I should have more clearly defined the urban/rural distinction, but I made an assumption that we would all agree that right now, most development programs are focused on issues in rural areas. Other increasingly popular programs also place a value on rural areas at their foundations – those that focus on “good governance” and “democracy-building” based on a principle of “de-centralization.” Yet, as I argued, most of these programs are based in the city.

    Of course, I would not purport that people working on urban issues should live in the countryside. And sure, urbanization is increasing, but I would argue the majority of development will and should stay in rural areas for quite some time. De-agrianization is not even close to becoming absolute and most people, I would argue, will continue to rely on the land for subsistence and small-scale commercial agriculture in the countryside.

    Anyway, this is all outside of the scope of the meat of the debate here – no one is trying to argue that people working on urban issues should live in the countryside. As for those of you who would argue that people working on projects affecting rural people should work in the cities, here are some of my clarifications.

    I do not try to make the absolutist argument that “field experience” inevitably creates competence, or that lack of it indicates incompetence. I do believe that field experience (using my above definition of “the field”) increases the chances of competence – both on the job and afterward. Life in rural areas in developing countries is challenging, requiring self-development. It’s often lonely, requiring introspection. There are language and cultural barriers, requiring a constant realization of country context. Project activities and impacts are in-your-face on a day-to-day basis, requiring constant project re-evaluation. It requires one to ask the questions, “Why am I here?” “What are we doing?” or even, “Who am I?”…opposed to the questions that I often found myself asking when I worked in the city: “Who are the people in these pictures?” “Where can I find this information or data?” “What are the impacts of our project?” And then the existential crisis: “Why am I sitting at this desk all day living the exact same life I could be living at home, but with slower internet?”

    I’m being a bit facetious. Sure, maybe the work from city to field isn’t all that different, but the lifestyle necessitates a different approach and perspective to the work. Relevant information is more accessible. It’s easier to conduct activities or make changes that actually affect beneficiaries because they’re right there. And perhaps most importantly, the lifestyle necessitates both professional and personal growth.

    We can still do capacity-building and report-writing and all of the things we internationals are meant to be doing in the field. In fact, capacity building in particular is even more needed in rural areas, especially in local government offices. De-centralization, anyone?

    Certainly both rural and urban local aid workers are essential to the operation of an organization. Relocating international workers will not replace local workers – it will simply put the two side-by-side instead of having them (sometimes) communicate electronically. And sure, I would never undercut the work of local development workers and their cultural understandings, but we should not depend on them entirely. There is undeniably a class divide between local aid workers and beneficiaries, and this is exacerbated in urban areas. I saw this a lot in Cambodia, for example, where ethnic Khmer people in the city, from the city, were working on rural development of indigenous peoples – as opposed to indigenous peoples I worked with in the rural areas trying to create indigenous networks in their home communities.

    I should explain my personal background, where a lot of my beliefs come from. My first development job was working in rural Cambodia as a volunteer for an organization. The field staff spoke such little English that I found my efforts there quite useless. I spent most of the time communicating with international staff via my computer. But I used my location to do something else too: I stuck my nose in a book and learned Khmer. After three months, I was able to do my job. One year later, I returned to that same rural area to work with indigenous people on land rights issues, and I feel as though my work during that year was incredibly effective because of (1) my location and (2) my language abilities. I gained a better understanding on culture and localities from each daily conversation. People – including the beneficiaries – were incredibly open and responsive, and often told me they respected and trusted me more because I lived there and had invested in them and their country. I was able to spot a huge gap between what our local staff were doing in the project and what the project did for the beneficiaries, and re-wrote the project. I had one-on-one meetings with local government officials who became invested in our project and engaged with each other, local organizations, and communities.

    I’m not saying these things can’t happen on a short-term field visit, translated or no, but aren’t the chances of success higher? And aren’t the field workers coming out with more knowledge, character, and experiences than they would have from sitting in a clichéd air-conditioned office all day?

    Even beyond the amazing things we can do while we’re in the field, it is also what that experience enables us to do later. “Where” I did my work led me to a different “how” I think about my work. (Again, I don’t think field experience automatically does this for everyone, but it did it for me.) I’m now working in Freetown, Sierra Leone on rural land issues. Even by working in the city in a different country, my field experience in Cambodia has given me a fresh outlook on my city to field work. I have noticed that I now approach work and the ex-pat lifestyle with a much more respectful and curious localized focus: learning the Krio language, learning about history and culture, making local friends, cooking local food, etc… and most importantly, I recognize that I cannot know or understand everything about this place, even by doing these things. I cannot place the country, project, or beneficiaries in a text box in Microsoft Word. Locals are complex human beings too, not just pictures on a page, with their own culture, language, and dreams. I know the beneficiary and the real issue is always much more complicated than I think it is.

    I do make about one field visit per week, and I recognize maybe it is not enough. I might be more effective if I lived right where the problems were, and maybe someday I will again, but for now, my experience in the field has given me all the perspective I need.

  4. Lupe

    i was once interviewed for an article on women in the aid world, and one of the questions i was asked (though my answer was omitted from the article) was what aid work was like. i responded that aid work is like office work… but in an “exotic” location. i was being tongue-in-cheek because i think there’s a tendency to romanticise the aid world and even more when professing to working in “the field”. ultimately, though, when i’ve conducted “field work”, it was ultimately for my own ego-driven benefit than the benefit of beneficiaries. i know where my role is and where my skillset and experience are best utilised, and for the most part that’s at the hq in the city. for example, as much as i would love to do a community needs assessment myself, it’s better to recruit, train and pay local staff and the community who will have a far better understanding of the context and language than i would even living in a place for two years.

    then there is project scale and type, and that “the field” defined can shift and change. ultimately, i think a flaw when recruiting people to work in aid is this romanticisation of “the field” and “being one with the people” – aren’t the locals working at hq and urban areas people of the country as well? the citizens of a country and its culture are just as diverse and rich and nuanced and full as they are where expats hail from, and i find it a little reductionist to paint people living rurally as rugged folk who are emblematic of the struggle of the whole population. we need to dispel these expectations, particularly for those who have this idea of an eat, pray, love scenario when they’re applying. i completely agree there needs to be cultural intimacy, but i think an emphasis on “experiential” aid work is in and of itself very problematic.

  5. This response from J. over at AidSpeak

    “I just have to get this out: “The Field” is overrated.

    I’m not saying that I don’t enjoy “the field” (whatever that even means–I take it to mean someplace with no metered taxis, where street food is less likely to make you sick than restaurant food, the local beer is marginal, and the internet is slow/non-available. In other words, rural Michigan, Saskatchewan, huge swaths of Australia, and pretty much all of Scotland. But I digress). I do enjoy the field. But I still think it’s overrated.”

    He goes on the make three very interesting points, which have been touched on in this discussion:

    1. Its all relative, ‘the field’ is not absolute.
    2. ‘Field experience’ on CVs creates a ‘false vibe of competence’.
    3. Creates a false vibe if ‘actually doing’; that is, the work for most expat aid workers is the same in the field as it is in HQ

    http://aidspeak.wordpress.com/2013/07/27/the-field/

  6. […] accompanying spouse hospitality coordinator at a church mission outreach project in Costa Rica, or working on your research in Cambodia (while consulting for “various NGOs”) are universes apart from each other. And yet, […]

  7. […] ins Feld: Dazu passt dieser Beitrag auf WhyDev, in dem die Autorin Alison Rabe kritisiert, dass sehr viele Menschen, die im Entwicklungsbereich […]

  8. Laurie

    Interesting discussion. I agree that development workers need to make sure they maintain a connection with beneficiaries, the approach your taking strikes me as a bit purist. Firstly, like Ayush said, many development projects and their beneficiaries live in cities, where it is very possible to forge meaningful friendships with locals and get the cultural intimacy you mention.

    But moreover, I think that for many professional aid workers, their place is rightfully in cities. Many expat aid workers are hired because they fill a need that local staff don’t have (yet), and in many cases, this is some sort of expertise, international knowledge, or coordinating roles between stakeholders at the international, national, and local level – and it’s in the cities where these stakeholders usually are. Development is about empowerment, and by imparting these skills to local staff, they can provide the best contribution they can. While I love going to the field, meeting the people projects help, discussing their experiences and getting to know their story, overall I’ve found that it’s in my role in the office that I would be able to use the skills I have to provide the greatest contribution to the greatest number of people.

  9. I don’t think the author is suggesting that development workers should only devote their efforts to rural projects. She’s saying that projects are most effective when designed from within the target community in response to its specific needs, history, personalities, culture, land use, politics, etc. If my target community is urban, then the city is my “field” and I’m in the right place. But if my target community is the rural province 300 km west along this dirt road, I may need to move my desk a little to the left if I want to design and implement a project that will achieve my desired outcomes. As you say, despite current migration patterns, developing countries are still overwhelmingly rural, as are development projects.

    Building the capacity of local NGOs is critical here, as clearly they are in a better position to design from within than any foreigner who has only lived in the community for a few weeks, months, or even years. But most local NGOs are small and based in the communities they serve, and they require proximal and extended support to build robust programs and organisational capacity. Even those with head offices in the capital cities will often need support in developing, planning, implementing, monitoring, evaluating, and adjusting the projects run through their field offices, which you’ll be in no position to do if you haven’t spent time understanding the context…you guessed it: in the field.

    1. Laurie

      Good points – I agree. I guess it comes down to what the scale of your project is and where it’s located. If you work for a small org. based in a rural area, then absolutely thats where you should operate. But more importantly, absolutely agree that expat aid workers need a thorough knowledge of local culture.

      But say you’re working for a larger project with multiple field offices, not sure I agree that this need for cultural immersion necessarily translates to being posted in a field office – especially if you could potentially be displacing someone local who could have that job – there are other ways to get cultural literacy.

    2. Ayush Gupta

      I agree about what both the author and yourself are saying about designing from within the community, my point rather was more about this narrative about ‘developing countries being overwhelmingly rural, as are development projects.’ As you point out if your target community is urban, then the city is your ‘field’ but I guess reading a few articles in the community seems to have this underlying theme that in rural areas are where the actual beneficiaries are – and well kind of ragging on the city workers. Now I’m new to this field, and I understand these are blogs and we are discussing semantics on the internet, but it feels that we are designing this narrative which really doesn’t encourage development workers to go work in cities. I read this article and resonated with much of what was said, but felt that I was being encouraged to go out into a rural area to find some real beneficiaries rather than take more steps to really engage with the people in the cities themselves. This was not likely the authors intention, but its the message I received nonetheless.

      As of 2010 more than half of all the worlds people lived in urban areas, in 20 years it is expected be over 6 in 10 (reference from WHO) – there may be some nations which may not fall into this category, looking at a few African and Asian countries,but in most places developing and developed there will be more people in cities than rural areas. The way we report on poverty also distorts comparisons between rural and urban areas; http://www.ucl.ac.uk/dpu-projects/21st_Century/myths/pdf%20myths/Myth7.pdf – that’s a report that elaborates on it. As you pointed out people need to spend time in their communities in order to effectively understand them and work with them, if we build a narrative that discourages people from working urban development and romanticizes rural development we will be weakening the foundation and the relationships that next generation of development workers should be building inside cities. My contention is simply that the above article is an example of that narrative and that cities need your love too. .

  10. Ayush Gupta

    I think to start with the idea that development’s true beneficiaries live in rural areas is problematic because although this may be true at the moment, it is less true than it was ten years ago. It will be not be true in a decade or two ahead. Rural to urban migration is increasing and proportion of people living in slums, rates of underemployment ,and overall inequality within cities is increasing. Cities essentially are already where many of our (as in development workers) direct beneficiaries live, and will be increasingly so in the future. More development workers going out into the field (read: rural areas as implied above) to ‘better understand the people’ is dispersing our collective impact to work with dwindling communities on peripheries whilst decreasing our capacity in the centres. Furthermore cities have resources and networks that are much more accessible to NGO’s and development workers which make life easier – which is fundamentally a good thing, even if that means it begins to resemble our dreaded western lives. Then of course there is language dialects, poor accessibility, and closed communities which challenge foreign workers, but slightly less so the local development workers. Then there all the talk you read about how expat aid workers and volunteers should really be building capacity in the local community rather than simply replacing local jobs, which means you need access to professionals, students, universitiies – stuff you find in cities. Seems to me at least, that prospective development workers should be encouraged to go to the cities find local ngo’s and organisations that work in the field and help them, rather than out into the field to find a ‘cultural intimacy’ that they failed to find when living in a city surrounded by culture. If your lifestyle is lacking connection to your local community its a personal fix – learn a language, chat to your neighbours, play some sport, and you will quickly find real people to spend your time with (not the romantic picture of a culture you had in your head before you left). Just want to end with, it’s not that rural areas do not deserve our attention, but that is already where a large amount of our collective resources are sent, and maybe we don’t need to direct any more that way when cities are where all the have’s and most of the have not’s are going to be living.

  11. At the outset, let me say I have NO arguments with the fact that development workers need to have a connect with the problems they are working on and communities that they work with. However, when the proposal is to make it 24/7 to the exclusion of everything else, I have a problem. Let me explain.

    I accept that there is often a disconnect but this,very simplistic (imo) solution is not necessarily going to help. For many reasons
    1. Not all answers are available at the point where the problem manifests itself. Community viewpoints are important but not the end all of all consultation. What about other stakeholders? Do they not matter?
    2. The point of intervention need not be the same as the point of suffering. As reflected in the case of a doctor treating ‘headaches’ with vision corrective glasses rather than analgesics.
    3. ‘Send them to the field’ is a nice romantic idea but if that means that the costs of interventions are going to increase and the pace reduces; ultimately you are not doing you job.

    Willing to hear counter arguments.

    1. I also wholeheartedly agree with the thrust and motivation of this article, but I’m not sure if the solution is so simple. For example, this paragraph paints a rosy picture: “The added bonus is that administrative costs would be greatly reduced. Office spaces in the field are exponentially cheaper than in the city. Overhead would further plummet when you cut out field visits and per diem expenses, which spoil us (get real people, we’ve all pocketed per diem money). Due to decreased living expenses, international salaries could also be reduced.”

      It’s true that overhead costs could decrease, but your transportation costs will also increase because unless your rural projects are all fairly concentrated in one area, you won’t have access to as many public transportation networks as you might from a city. Plus, if road networks aren’t high quality, you’ll use up more miles and wear if you’re using work vehicles to get to further removed rural locations. Central locations benefit from infrastructure and the efficiencies associated with it.

      Also, if you really want to cut out per diem abuse, use expense reports and reimburse everything with a receipt (even if it’s handwritten on your organization-issued receipt book).

      Likewise, local national staff are frequently going to be much more effective in rural areas, especially if non-majority languages are spoken in rural areas. (E.g. speaking Quechua is a huge advantage in rural areas where majority Spanish is not widely spoken.)

      Honestly, it comes down a bit more the lifestyle the workers choose, regardless of urban or rural. Workers have to be a bit more willing to push themselves out of comfort zones and not just hang out with fellow expats. Still, a good article.

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